Russell,

> > Having said that, I still think it misses the point. The fact that
> > Parfit's thought experiments sometimes seem to have a degree of
> > scientific plausibility is just a bonus that makes his writing more
> > entertaining. Parfit's ideas on personal identity are squarely in
the
> > tradition of John Locke, who wrote about transfer of "consciousness"
> > from one person to another, suggesting that it is this consciousness
> > (which importantly includes the donor's memories) which determines
> > identity rather than the physical body in which it happens to
reside.
> > Clearly, this kind of mind transfer was a completely ridiculous
notion
> > in the 17th century, and probably still is. But technical
feasibility
> > (or indeed physical possibility) was not part of Locke's argument,
nor
> > was it used as ammunition against him by his philosophical
opponents.
> > His argument was that IF it were possible to transfer memory etc.
from
> > one person to another, THEN the recipient would feel himself to be
the
> > donor, even though he would notice that he had a completely
different
> > body. Opponents of this view argue that it is NOT the case that
transfer
> > of memories etc. from one body to another - WERE it possible - would
> > result in transfer of personal identity (see R. & P. chap 10.82 for
> > Bernard Williams' thought experiment, for example).
> >
> 
> My response to Locke's thought experiment is that the result would a
new
> person, as embodiment has a strong effect on one's psyche as well. I
would
> not even predict that the new person is in between those of the donor
> and donee, although obviously there would be some elements on common
> (memories of the donor for example).

You're being too practical. That's fine for scientific speculation, but
it can be an impediment in trying to understand philosophers. If I say,
"if I were God, I would get rid of all the flies", I am saying something
about my attitude to flies; the fact that me becoming God might be a
practical and probably a theoretical impossibility is beside the point.
Similarly, Parfit's thought experiments are designed to explore the
meaning of the term "personal identity", not the likelihood that Star
Trek will become reality. Certainly, in the world we live in it is very
easy to come up with a reliable *practical* method for verifying a
person's identity, such as asking his wife, or via neuronal DNA
analysis, or whatever; but this does not really tell us what, in
essence, personal identity is. What if, by science or magic, a person
were perfectly duplicated? What if, by science or magic, incremental
changes were made to a person's mind so that his mental state came to
resemble that of a different person? Is it possible to arrive at a
definition of personal identity which would yield what everyone would
agree is the "right" answer in such cases? Parfit's conclusion is that
there is no such definition possible; no objective "truth of the matter"
regarding personal identity. What we are left with is something perhaps
disturbingly vague: what matters to us in survival is just the feeling
of psychological continuity, regardless of what physical processes take
place to bring about this feeling.

Stathis Papaioannou   

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